March 17, 2012

La Trobe University Archaeology

Tags: History, Podcasts

Available from iTunes or from the La Trobe University Podcasts page (but they will have to be found individually as there does not appear to be a series webpage).

This is a series of talks and interviews from the La Trobe University Archaeology department. The topics vary wildly, from the traditional Ancient Egypt and Cyprus, to relatively modern digs in Melbourne city (founded in 1835). As the series is archaeologically focussed there is more emphasis on the extraction and identification of objects than history. At present there are 12 episodes - 2 are short videos (around 3 minutes) and the remainder are audio only. Two of the audio podcasts are hour long scholarly presentations, while the other 8 are interviews of between 15 to 20 minutes duration. There may be more episodes in the series as the entries so far have trickled in over the last 2 years. Production quality is high for the whole series.

There are two podcasts on archaeology in Oceania, particularly Hawaii. One is an academic presentation, while the other is an interview with the same presenter on the same topic. There is some talk on Jared Diamond’s Collapse book. Diamond suggests that society on the Polynesian island Mangareva due to overforestation. However, the presenter’s research suggests instead that the deforestation was caused by a lack of phosphorus in the soil due to the killing of sea birds. The discussion of Hawaii is similarly focussed on the affect of intensive cultivation on soil quality. Unsurprisingly the indigenous people started agriculture on the best land and as population grew, expanded out to less productive land. Once all arable areas were cultivated, the land became more subdivided and population growth slowed. Also there is evidence of political consolidation beginning around the same time.

Another paired presentation and interview discuss excavations at the ancient Egyptian capital Amarna. They are focussed on the industry of the time - in particular small metal work and glazed pottery. Details of the materials used are probed with synchrotrons and a bit of experimental archaeology is conducted to determine the techniques used to manufacture them.

Another episode details the search for ships lost in Vietnam by the Chinese emperor Kublai Khan at the Battle of Bach Dang. Three episodes (including both video podcasts) discuss the tools and evolution of early humans, especially the position in the evolutionary tree of some complete skeletons recently found in Sediba. There is also an interview about bronze age burials in Cyprus and other podcasts focus on the archaeological difficulties and discoveries underwater or in cities.